An East German woman finds herself adrift in ‘Barbara’
BY JORDAN MINTZER March 7, 2013 3:44PM
Barbara Nina Hoss
Andre Ronald Zehrfeld
Klaus Rainer Bock
Jorg Mark Waschke
Adopt Films presents a film written and directed by Christian Petzold. In German with English subtitles. Running time: 105 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for some sexual material, thematic elements and smoking). Opening Friday at Landmark Century.
Updated: April 9, 2013 10:58AM
A slow-burning Cold War drama, the German film “Barbara” will reward patient viewers with its ultimate payoff.
Set in an East German village in 1980, the film portrays the stifling day-to-day grind of a doctor (Nina Hoss, in a terrifically restrained performance) torn between her desire to flee to the West and her growing attachment to a fellow physician.
After being banished from Berlin for trying to obtain a travel visa, Barbara finds herself isolated in a gloomy town where she works at a medical clinic. Subject to constant supervision by a menacing East German officer (Rainer Bock), she searches for a way to leave once and for all.
But her yearnings are gradually transformed as she grows closer to the clinic’s head doctor, Andre (Ronald Zehrfeld), a gentle loner who’s forced to keep tabs on Barbara and whose intentions are never quite clear. Their bond is further enhanced by a love of the profession that has them working overtime to care for two troubled patients.
Building a claustrophobic atmosphere, Petzold and cinematographer Hans Fromm present Barbara’s newfound existence through a canvas of muted colors and crisp, stationary medium shots as if she were a prisoner serving out an implicit life sentence. She’s eventually thrown into a dilemma where her need for freedom is challenged by the gratitude she receives from others. When her West German boyfriend, Jorg, swings by to offer a sure-fire way out, the stage is set for a denouement where Barbara’s conflicting impulses come to a surprising resolution.
In her fifth collaboration with Petzold, Hoss offers up a carefully balanced turn that subdues most emotion until the final minutes, yet she still manages to paint a full portrait of her character’s inner turmoil.